Party animals - 'An Election Entertainment' at the RVT

Nathan Evans Nathan Evans
Posted: Tue Apr 27 2010

Looking forward to a full-on convergence of cabaret and current affairs, Time Out previews 'An Election Entertainment' at the RVT

For much of its history, cabaret has been an inherently political form, the Weimar scene being the most obvious touchstone. Look around the circuit today, though, and political engagement isn't always easy to come by. With a few noteworthy exceptions - Scottee's Eat Your Heart Out party comes to mind, as does Tricity Vogue and Dusty Limits's recent satirical revue, 'Lush Life' - a lot of work focuses on laughs and glamour in the name of escapism. Well, cabaret is meant to be fun, right?

This week's most exciting show sets out to prove there's no contradiction. Produced by Nathan Evans for the RVT, 'An Election Entertainment' will include ten original pieces from great performers including David Hoyle, Scottee, Dusty Limits, Sarah-Louise Young, Gill Manly, Michael Roulston and magician Paul Kieve, with performances ranging from revamped Punch & Judy to body art, video work to 'democratic operatics', audience collaborations and installation work.

Evans took his inspiration from a Hogarth engraving of the same name from 1754, in which scandal, corruption and booze feature prominently. 'The election that year apparently featured a campaign of unprecedented nastiness and dishonesty between the parties, so there seemed to be some parallels there,' he suggests. Evans recognises that today's political landscape is less fraught than that of, say, 1920s Berlin. 'The stakes are lower - there's a general consensus and it's arguing over the nitty-gritty. The political system is mostly boarding-school bickering, really, and there's a general malaise in society. We're not advocating one political faction over another but suggesting we've got to engage, to be active, to use the democratic tools we've got. It might be a blunt tool but it's the best we've got.'

The election could prove a bit of a tipping point in political engagement, Evans suggests. 'Generally, cabaret art reflects society and there has been massive indifference to politics over the past decade,' he says. 'Most artists tend to be left-leaning and it's been a fairly safe environment for the past 13 years. I think people are suddenly engaging because there's a fear of not knowing what's going to happen next - and wanting to have a part in shaping it.'

'I think cabaret should be political,' maintains Sarah-Louise Young, who's planning a 'debateretta' with Dusty Limits. 'What makes cabaret special is the audience involvement - rather than just saying 'Here's what we think', it's a chance to reflect and to challenge what an audience thinks.' Young also feels that, mainstream consensus notwithstanding, there's no shortage of material to engage with. 'I'm a child of the 80s - one of my earliest memories is being on a march for the miners. We're so used to spin and a celebrity view of politicians that we don't get angry any more but there's plenty to get angry about. People are still dying waiting on the NHS or serving in the army, people are still living in fear and poverty. None of that has gone away because politicians are more touchy-feely and on Twitter. It's very easy to think it doesn't matter whether you vote but if we do nothing, nothing changes.'

David Hoyle's work has always been intensely political - if not by taking the piss out of current affairs then by examining the reasons and manner in which human beings engage one another within society. 'I have problems living within so-called reality,' Hoyle acknowledges. 'It's very easy to walk around thinking, 'God, I can't believe it's still like this.' We're dealing with quantities of human sacrifice that would appal our ancestors. I think at the least we should work on some sort of annual limit - so many deaths per year!'

In the run-up to the election he's been creating paintings that reflect his, um, scepticism about the official political process, and is planning 'an endurance piece' for Wednesday's show that will hint at the long-term consequences of seemingly spur-of-the-moment activities such as voting. For a while, Hoyle entertained the idea of running for parliament himself in Vauxhall.

'I don't feel like contaminating myself by getting involved,' he says, “but I'd like to do something alongside it. Maybe sit outside a polling station and give people the opportunity to vote for me as well. Perhaps I could get more votes than the official winning candidate and then graciously concede. But psycho-spiritually I will be running the constituency. But I'd like us to imagine a world where parliamentary democracy's not necessary - where it's sheer collective consciousness and collective will that keeps things moving - not laws, just a profound connection with each other. And anyone with an individual ego would be put into stocks in the village square.'

For now, though, there's the election, and 'An Election Entertainment', which will remain work in progress until the last minutes. 'To everyone's surprise, it's actually turned into quite an exciting campaign,' Evans notes. 'We want to keep things flexible so we can be up to date.' And, he stresses, the 'entertainment' bit is as important as the 'election' bit. 'The remit of cabaret is to translate those ideas, that political engagement, into something that's fun. There will be some quite rude bits.' To that end, he's off to work on 'a little film called 'Hung Parliament'…'

'An Election Entertainment' is at the RVT, Wed May 5, 2010.